Review: How about a test-drive in a new Xebra PK?

I was just going in for some routine maintenance on my car, when I saw a line of scooters in front of the lobby of Jessup's Automotive in LaGrange Park, IL, the mechanic my family has been going to for seven years. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the Zap! logo and remembered that these guys were now a dealer for Zap!'s products. Containing my excitement and curiosity, I went in and got started with what I came there to do, then off-handedly asked how the interest in the Zap!s was going.

Apparently, very well. Jeff Jeffries said they have had a lot of people come in and check them out, and in fact, there was a woman out for a test drive right then. He then offered me my own, an offer I couldn't turn down, whether being a shade of green or not.

Continued after the jump.

Build quality is, well, not. It felt rickety, with tolerances one could drive a Mini Clubman through. The doors close with a rattly clang that I haven't heard since I got in my friend's restored '56 Bel Air. The seats have very straight backs and don't adjust very far in any direction. It becomes obvious very quickly that "hand-made in China" does not mean the same thing as "hand-made in Britain" or "hand-crafted in Germany". That being said, this is a purpose-built vehicle. It isn't meant to be luxurious in any way, but is meant to perform small utility tasks (as well as the large task of getting the Zap! name out mingling among the public). The bed is rated at a 500 lb. payload, though as I understand it, it has pulled around 800 just fine. It tilts back like a dump truck, and the sides unlatch and drop down for larger loads. Under that bed, you'll see the lead-acid batteries connected in sequence to a surprisingly small electric motor driving the rear wheels. Upon entering the micro-truck, one quickly notices something missing - a gear-shifter. Instead, there is a knob on the dashboard pointing to F, N or R. Turn the key to the 'on' position, twist your knob to 'Forward,' release the parking break and go.

Going is not a brisk acceleration, though considering the size of the motor and weight of the big batteries and two guys, it's actually somewhat impressive. It was a little unnerving to step on the breaks, however, and have little breaking actually happen. Almost all the power from the batteries has to be devoted to the electric motor, making power-steering and power breaks impossible. Despite the minute size of the vehicle, and the fact that you're only steering a single wheel, the steering felt very heavy. I was very relieved, though, to find very little body roll in making a turn (notice 'turning', not cornering - I wouldn't recommend taking this on a slalom course), especially considering the nature of three-wheelers. The concept of a single-front-wheel tricycle has always made me nervous, but this one actually feels very stable. However, not as reassuring is the reason for designing the truck and the car iteration with one less wheel than we are used to -- to get around the federal crash safety test regulations. Anything with less than four wheel is considered a motorcycle by law. That may not be very confidence-inspiring, but then again, not a lot can happen to you within the 40 miles you'll get on a charge.

The best part of this vehicle is probably that the profits made from it will go mostly to the production of whatever comes of the Lotus APX concept. That will be a real car, whereas this is an intermediate step, getting the name heard and the brand established. When the APX shows up, the Xebra will likely be forgotten quickly. In the meantime, Jessup's is hoping to sell these micro-trucks to nearby Brookfield Zoo as part of their maintenance and service fleet, a service well suited for the PK. Another consideration is that at only $10,000, this might be a pretty decent first car for a teenager in school - limited seating, low price, almost no maintenance or cost of ownership, and limited range, so they can't run too far away from home. Add to that the impossibility of reaching reckless speeds, and you have a pretty good mix to teach your kid responsible driving. As long as you get them an iPhone too, so they're not so embarrassed to be seen in it.

Jessup's is the first Zap! dealer in the Chicago area. Owner Mike Jessup will be happy to help anyone in the western suburbs find out more about Zap!s products, or any of his friendly, capable staff. A nice part about checking these vehicles out from a repair shop like this is that these guys are not salesmen, so they'll be candid and honest with you. And they're looking forward to the APX as much as we are.

Share This Photo X